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The young and the restless

24 March 2011

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I started working for the NHS as a practice manager in England in 2004, straight after completing a BSc degree in Management and Marketing in Poland. A Polish National, I had originally enrolled to follow this up with a masters’ degree, but I decided to move to England to embark on a management career.

Having been brought up in a wealthy family, I was eager to see the world and at the same time challenge myself. I guess I just wanted to see whether I could do it on my own. So, straight after completing my degree in Poland, I decided to look for a job abroad.

At the time it never crossed my mind that I would be working for the NHS, despite the fact that there had always been plenty of medical talk at home, as my mum is an eye surgeon.

Initially, I applied for an administrator’s role in a GP practice in Oldham but was promoted to Assistant Manager within several months. I was inspired by being able to use my management knowledge and make things happen in practice. I continued to study in my spare time, which allowed me to achieve my original goal of obtaining a master’s degree in Global Business Management. By that time, however, I had already been promoted to Practice Manager.

I worked extremely hard to ensure that my practice was successful and profitable but, at the same time, provided the best-quality care for our patients. At the time I joined, the practice was lacking the right management outlook, which was not helped by the introduction of the new GMS contract in 2004. However, I can honestly say that I managed to turn this around successfully and make it a success.

A self-inflicted workaholic, I thrive by improving things and achieving as much as possible. After five years of working for the same practice, therefore, I realised that I needed a new challenge. At this point I was writing my MBA dissertation (‘Balanced scorecard as a performance measurement tool in general practice’) to complete my final year at the University of Huddersfield.

In June 2009, I noticed an advert for a manager for a new Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) practice in Oldham, and I applied. I got the job and so embarked on the very challenging journey of setting up a new practice from scratch. The surgery differs from a standard GP practice: it is an equitable access GP-led health centre, open from 8am to 8pm every day of the year, serving a population of both registered and walk-in patients.

As a brand new practice, we are continuously building our list size, which changes every week. Currently, we have almost 1,000 registered patients and see approximately 40-70 walk-in patients a day. Our practice is so different to a routine GP surgery due to the uncertainty factor – we never know who/what will walk through the door. At the same time, I find the job is more rewarding as we can reach out to so many different individuals and promote best practice.

The team
I have been fortunate enough to have an extraordinary team of people working with me. We work together as part of Go To Doc (GTD), a not-for-profit provider of primary care services across Greater Manchester delivering urgent out-of-hours medical care to the populations of Manchester, Oldham, Tameside and Glossop, along with out-of-hours dental services across Oldham and Salford. GTD manages nine GP practices and three GP health centres across Greater Manchester.

From the very beginning, we were passionate about establishing a health centre that not only provides extensive facilities for registered and unregistered patients, but also fills the massive gap for young person’s services in the area.

Our initial aim was to establish links with local organisations and engage with community programmes that catered for teenagers and young adults. We envisaged providing comprehensive services and advice clinics, including contraception and sexual health, drugs and alcohol, and emotional wellbeing. We also made the centre young people friendly by choosing bright colours, eye-catching displays and, most importantly, providing a team of pleasant, friendly and caring staff.

We set ourselves the objective of engaging with young people to shape the practice’s health service and make it easily accessible to this group in the community. We intended to remove the barriers hindering young people from accessing healthcare and to encourage them to take an active role in staying fit, healthy and safe. We also worked very closely with local colleges and universities and provided resources for them to enable a more holistic approach to young people’s care.

For instance, we facilitated numerous sessions for students, enabling them to ask any questions about the health service, as well as about our professions, including nursing, medicine and management.

We also facilitated many drop-in sessions, to which we invited other health service providers so that the students could obtain confidential advice and information. The topics discussed included health wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, sexuality issues, contraception, healthy eating and positive body image.

Unlike a standard GP practice, team members at all levels were involved in promoting the centre by attending various local events such as open days in colleges, sexual health campaigns and pride events. We also did outreach clinics, stood outside shopping centres and attended learning events at the local university and colleges.

As a result of this hard work, we were able to develop targeted services such as advice clinics for young people on topics such as body confidence issues and substance abuse. In addition, young people registering with the practice can access contraception and receive sexually transmitted infection testing, pregnancy testing and support.

We achieved so much in such a short space of time and it was hugely satisfying to see the rewards of all of our efforts.

The recognition
I believe in constant progression and development; therefore I am always in the process of planning. My plans might not be right all of the time, but I am always thinking about the different areas of my life: personal and professional. I aim to challenge myself on a physical level, an emotional level and a career level, and I employ this ethic in my work as a manager.

I’m pleased to say that our hard work paid off within the first year of operation! Last year we not only obtained the “You’re Welcome” accreditation (the quality criteria launched by the Department of Health in 2005 to make health services more young people friendly) but also received the MiP Practice Team of the Year award in October.

Most importantly, we receive continuous great feedback from the patients we see (both registered and unregistered), have managed to build a very good rapport with all local organisations, providers and communities, and are known for providing exceptionally good and caring services.

But just when things started falling into place and we started to feel that the hard work was paying off, we were advised in September last year that GTD had put in a bid for the local walk-in-centre and were successful. This means that we will be integrating, expanding and relocating over the next few months.

The project
Even though we felt like the ground was being taken away from under us, deep down I felt quite excited about the prospects of the new project and challenge. I was given the opportunity to be the project lead, which I am very grateful for, as this has given me the opportunity to learn new things and develop new skills. It has also made me feel in charge of the situation, which really makes a difference.

At the time of writing we are four months into the project. Things are moving swiftly and we are only three weeks away from the move. We are moving only five minutes from our base, but the premises are completely different. So, by the time this article will be printed we will be starting from scratch once again!

The relocation and integration make sense for the primary care trust, GTD and even patient perspective. Being able to access all primary care services under one roof is a step forward in ensuring seamless provision of services. Obviously the news about the move and the integration was initially a massive shock to all of us, and the thought of having to leave the building we all worked so hard to make friendly, approachable and sociable has been a little disheartening.

Personally, I have mixed feelings: on one hand, it will be a challenging career move to be involved in establishing a flagship urgent care centre, and on the other hand I am apprehensive about moving into a Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT) building as it might restrict us in terms of working with young people. (Since it is leased from a landlord, certain aspects of the building have to remain the same. This means that we can’t continue with our displays and comfy young people’s area, but I’m sure we can still make it work in our favour.)

However, there is still a lot of enthusiasm left in the team and I am certain that we will make it work. Overall, being involved and leading the project has been a massive learning curve for me and I never realised how many various aspects must be covered in a mobilisation plan to ensure everything has been accounted for. I have very much enjoyed being a project lead and definitely want to improve my skills in project management and, hopefully, move my career another step forward.